Our White Sox are becoming fun to watch again. Yes, I know they’re sitting at 29-30 as I type this and they’ve taken advantage of a soft schedule to this point, but we’ve seen so much bad baseball the last few seasons that this has been a breath of fresh air. I’ve seen some people still clamoring for Dallas Keuchel in effort to try and win a Wild Card this season, which isn’t happening but that’s not what this column is about today. There’s a growing sentiment on White Sox Twitter that they should begin using prospect capital to supplement the Major League roster. Is this really the right time to start making these types of moves?
Look, I’m all for the Sox bringing in more talent at the big league level to help this team continue its upward trajectory. However, I’m not sure the team has the prospect capital performing well enough to be able to acquire contract-controlled Major League talent. When looking at this team’s Top 15 Prospects according to MLB.com you have 4 untouchables (Eloy Jimenez, Luis Robert, Michael Kopech, Dylan Cease) and 11 players that are either done for the season due to injury, or under-performing at the minor league level. Simply put, they’re not going to be able to get the value in return for players if they are trying to move them. This team is going to have to wait until the winter to start making these types of moves, so in the meantime they will need the healthy players to begin playing at their expected levels of performance in order to be in a position to acquire talent to help the team at 35th/Shields.
Of the Sox Top 15 prospects, 10 are position players across various levels of the system. As you’ll see below, the performance by and large has not been pretty:
|7||Luis Alexander Basabe||AA||.580|
|13||Jake Burger||A+||Achilles Tendon Recovery|
I’ve used OPS for the sake of simplicity when evaluating the performances through the season’s first two months. Top prospect Eloy Jimenez is off to a devilishly slow start to his Major League career as he is seeing a steady diet of sliders to this point. He’s beginning to show signs of adjusting, sitting on these pitches outside the zone and driving them to the opposite field when in the strike zone.
LuBob or La Pantera, whichever you prefer, was committing heinous crimes against baseballs in the Carolina League that prompted a quick promotion to AA Birmingham — where hitters typically go to die. All he has done to this point is put up a .955 OPS, including a 450 foot bomb over the weekend that cleared the scoreboard at Regions Field. Robert is causing the locals to get restless and clamor for a promotion similar to what we saw from Juan Soto a year ago with the Washington Nationals. Like the four untouchables, he isn’t being utilized in a trade package to acquire major league ready talent.
The rest of the list hasn’t been pretty, as you see above. In Winston-Salem, 2018 First Round pick, Nick Madrigal, has hit a lot of singles so far while not showing much power. This was a major concern heading into the draft last year and to this point has played itself out, raising questions about what exactly his role can be going forward. It’s certainly not time to give up on Madrigal, even if the early returns haven’t been great.
2017 First Round pick, Jake Burger, has still not seen game action since his multiple Achilles tendon ruptures in the spring of 2018. Burger should be getting back to game action soon and hopefully the lost time due to injury doesn’t harm his development as the organization was very high on him coming out of Missouri State.
Steele Walker showed himself to be too advanced for Low A Kannapolis, earning a promotion to Winston-Salem. The early returns, however, haven’t been great to this point through 27 games with the Dash. Walker has been plagued by a .237 BABIP in the hitter friendly Carolina League, so I would anticipate a turnaround here in short order.
The Birmingham Barons were supposed to be the most exciting affiliate in the system this year as they were “loaded” with the organization’s top outfield prospects. As you see from the numbers above the likes of Luis Gonzalez, Micker Adolfo, Blake Rutherford, and Luis Basabe have put up some gut wrenching numbers to this point. Basabe was slowed by a hamate injury this spring and his initial return to game action was rough to say the least. However, in the last 2 weeks he’s slashing .310/.370/.381, showing signs of life.
Rutherford has been truly dreadful in his first go round in the Southern League, as he’s not been able to get his OPS over .600 and has looked over-matched frequently. Gonzalez’s rate stats are all in line with his numbers across pro ball, though he’s sporting a .259 BABIP that looks to be contributing to his overall disappointing line.
Then we come to Micker Adolfo, the prize of the Sox 2013 international free agent class. Ever since coming into the Sox organization Adolfo has struggled to put together a full season. He made tremendous strides last year with Winston-Salem before being shut down for Tommy John surgery in June so there was tremendous optimism for him heading into 2019. Well, a K rate north of 30% followed by another elbow surgery to repair a flexor tendon has sidelined Adolfo for the remainder of this year. At this point, it’s becoming harder and harder to envision a scenario where Adolfo makes it to Chicago. He’s still only 22, but he’s missed so much development time which is very sad to see. This crop was supposed to yield fixtures on the South Side or provide currency to fill other holes on the club. They simply aren’t doing either at this current point in time.
Meanwhile down in Charlotte, there’s Zack Collins. I think few Sox prospects (with the exception of Madrigal) are as divisive as Collins. He’s still not getting high marks for his defensive work behind the dish, leading many to believe it’s time to make the transition to a 1B/DH role. One thing that is clear, however, is that Collins has nothing left to prove offensively in the minor leagues. While playing in the bandbox that is BB&T Ballpark in Uptown Charlotte, Collins is mashing as he’s hit 8 homers in 36 games (after missing time due to concussion symptoms) and slugging a robust .521. His trademark plate discipline is on display as he has an 18.2% BB rate — after leading all of minor league baseball in walks during 2018. Detractors, meanwhile, will point to his 31% K rate in the International League as a sign that he still needs more development time.
Ultimately, I think when Collins arrives in Chicago he’s going to get an elevated level of the 2017-2018 Yoan Moncada treatment from fans because of his unwillingness to swing at anything that simply is not his pitch. I expect Collins to drive this fan base crazy with how little he actually swings the bat, but I think it’s time to start that process now as he has nothing left to prove in the minors. But given his performance from a power and OBP standpoint could Collins bring back a decent return despite not making any Top 100 Prospect listings? I’m just not sure at this point.
The Sox currently have 5 of their Top 15 prospects on the mound, and the injury bug has hit this group.
|3||Michael Kopech||MLB||Tommy John Recovery|
|6||Dane Dunning||AA||Tommy John Surgery|
Top pitching prospect Michael Kopech will miss the entire season as he recovers from Tommy John surgery performed late last season. Even if healthy, they wouldn’t consider moving him as he is viewed as the top of the rotation piece this team needs going forward. Dylan Cease is proving that the next step in his development is working against Major League hitters, and he has been pretty much as expected this season. Clearly, he’s another piece you’re not moving in a trade package.
Dane Dunning went down in Spring Training after being bitten by the Tommy John bug. This comes after being limited last season due to elbow issues, so there’s no opportunity to package him for talent either. The final two pitchers, Ian Hamilton and Alec Hansen, are two relievers that are having issues in the minors. Realistically, relief prospects don’t yield valuable returns for Major League players anyway, so there isn’t much here on the pitching front that makes sense trading away.
So What Now?
Look, this team has attempted to build up a critical mass of prospect depth that we knew would one day have to be utilized to augment the club at 35th/Shields. Sadly, injuries and under-performance have put the organization in a bit of a bind for the time being. There is still plenty of time left in the season for these guys to rebound, however I just don’t envision a scenario where the Sox will be able to utilize prospect capital to acquire long-term pieces for the parent club at this moment. Many of these guys could catch fire the remainder of the season building, their value to the point where they could be packaged for big league help, but that time isn’t now. We’ve all hoped the day would come where the farm system would be utilized to get immediate help to end the postseason drought, but we simply aren’t at that point yet.
I think we collectively need to pump the breaks on these thoughts until we start seeing some better performances out of the prospect group.
Follow Steve on Twitter (@NWI_Steve) for more White Sox news and opinion.